Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Making Challah

Service work and contributing towards the greater good is a cornerstone of Jewish community life. At a local New Jersey food bank a group of Jewish women contributed their time and compassion to make challah and to package food to be distributed to the elderly and infirm. 

Rolling out the strands of dough:



Braiding the strands into a challah loaf:



The final product before baking:


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Lazer Lloyd Performance at Chai Center

Lazer Lloyd, American/Israeli blues guitarist, performed at the Chai Center which is a non-official local Chabad house. His music is an eclectic mix of Jewish/blues/rock and his charm and warm personality is a delight to experience. He was even so gracious as to allow me to fiddle a few tunes with him (after spending about 5 minutes before the show going over the chords).

House concerts are great challenges to photograph - the space is tight and the lighting is uneven at best. The Fuji X-T1 and 16-55mm lens rose to the occasion wonderfully. Most of the shots I took were at ISO 6400 and the image noise was very manageable (I'm looking forward to working with the X-Pro 2 in a few weeks, the noise processing appears to be even better). The IS saved the day at shutter speeds of 1/60th and 1/30th of a second.



Friday, January 29, 2016

Jews of Cuba - Part 1

The purpose of our group's trip to the island of Cuba was to bring the holiday of Hanukah to the Jewish community on the island. Statistics are hard to come by, but the best estimates are that between 1000 and 1500 practicing Jews live there. The largest concentration is in Havana which has three active synagogues - Orthodox (Adath Israel - which we did not visit), Sephardic, and Conservative Ashkenazic. There are two Jewish cemeteries on the outskirts of Havana - Ashkenazic, which is maintained by the Orthodox community, and Sephardic. In the large population centers outside of Havana there are several very small communities of Jews that are kept alive by weekly, monthly, and annual gatherings. Distances and lack of adequate transportation make get-togethers challenging. I published some of these photos in a previous blog post, but I've included them here for completeness. The second part of the series will be exclusively about the Hanukah celebrations.

The entrance to the Patronato Synagogue, home of the Beth Shalom Congregation is conservative Ashkenazi and the largest Jewish structure on the island.



The bima and ark of the Patronato. The roof is in dire need of repair and has several leaks which necessitates the buckets.



The Patronato is blessed with a luxury of six torah scrolls:



One of the hebrew school classrooms in the Patronato:

                                     



Adela Dworkin is the president of the Patronato synagogue:



 A large library of Jewish literature is maintained at the Patronato:



Friday night services at the Patronato are led by lay members of the congregation. There is no resident rabbi on the island. 



Torah rack and Tzedakah box in the Sephardic synagogue, The Centro Sephardi. The oldest synagogue on the island is the defunct Chevet Achim which is maintained by the Sephardi community.



The Sephardic synagogue had four torah scrolls, but I was surprised to see that they were not encased in the traditional Sephardic hard vertical wood container. These are Ashkenazic torahs.




Entrance to the United Hebrew Ashkenazi cemetery on the outskirts of Havana (we didn't visit the Centro Hebrea Sephardi de Cuba):




A sampling of the many tombstones in the cemetery:



Custom is to rinse one's hands upon leaving the cemetery.



Rebecca Langus and family: her home is the gathering place for Jewish events in the area of Cienfuegos.









Thursday, January 21, 2016

Cuba Trip - Day 6

We hit a lot of touristy spots throughout the whole trip. The purpose of the trip was ostensibly to bring Hanukkah to the Jews of Cuba - photos of that in a later post. But one of the highlights of the trip was during our next to last day in Havana. Our tour guide was friendly with a family that currently occupied the home she grew up in, and they had become her surrogate family. We were invited into their home, so we had a chance to see how the average (real) Cuban family lived. The neighborhood looked a bit rough, but the people couldn't have been more hospitable.

Denizens of the neighborhood:





 Being welcomed into the home
   










Monday, January 18, 2016

Brit Milah

The long history of Judaism is due in no small part to a connection with our ancestors through rites and rituals practiced for centuries. Although there has been evolution and change, continuity has been maintained by reliving the practices of our forefathers. The wearing of Tefillin, about which I've presented several times, began thirty-three hundred years ago during the exodus from Egypt. Circumcision dates back much further to the covenant made between G-d and our founding father whose original name was Abram. When he was 99 years old, G-d appeared before him and changed his name to Abraham, meaning 'father of a multitude of nations'. According to the covenant, G-d promised Abraham the land of Canaan and His protection and care in exchange for which Abraham and his ancestors would follow the path laid down by G-d. The command for circumcision (Brit) was given as a symbol of this covenant. During the modern ritual of Brit Milah, which is performed by a Mohel - a person who is specifically trained to perform the religious and medical procedure, the baby also receives his Jewish name.

Recently I had the opportunity to attend the Brit Milah as a guest of a friend and fellow congregant as his grandson was welcomed into the Nation of Israel. 






Thursday, January 14, 2016

Back To Cuba - Day 5 (part 2)

More street photos from Havana, in the neighborhood of the Central Park and the Prado.









Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Tefillin - Part 3

Last set from the event this past Sunday.

Concentration:



With Zayde:



The proud Mama: